I hate religion. I haven’t always felt that way, but it became clearer to me why so many people don’t like religion as my Christian faith deepened and I grew to understand the truth about religion itself, love and God’s creation.
God created all people to embrace love and reject selfishness, something at the core of our being. Religion is selfish, but love is selfless. Religion gives to get and love gives to bless, expecting nothing in return. Religion is always looks out for itself, while love always looks out for others. Jesus wasn't religious at all — He didn't give to get anything. He gave so He could keep on giving.
Years ago, when my uncle and pastor told me he hated religion, I thought he had slipped off the deep end. It took me a while to grasp what he meant, but now I do, and I couldn’t agree more.
Before you get mad at me, let me explain the four reasons I hate religion.
#1: Religion Is Prideful
Jesus tells a story about two men who go to the temple to pray. Below is the story found in Luke 18:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
I think we all identify with what Jesus felt about these two men. I suspect most that read that story feel drawn to the humble man and a desire to distance themselves from the religious one. Jesus felt the same way. God created us to feel that way! The problem with the Pharisee was not that he fasted twice a week or gave a tenth of all he had to others, but why he did it.
He did it to get something and thought he was above others for doing so. That’s what religion does. A religious person works hard at changing in order to gain something, and when they believe they have achieved it, they think they are better than people who don't do what they do.
Religion gives to be better than others when love gives to better others. In the end, it’s just like Jesus said: Put yourself first and find yourself last, or put yourself last and find yourself first.
#2: Religion Is All about Me
Early on in our marriage, my wife Tammie and I had an issue. I could tell she wasn’t happy, and if Tammie isn’t happy, I’m not happy. I asked what was wrong, and she told me she had asked me to hold her when we slept many times but I never did.
I told Tammie I didn't want to hold her because I would get hot and begin to sweat, and I couldn't sleep well. I literally thought you could fry an egg on that girls back! As you can imagine, she was upset and her response was, "If you don't want to hold me then don't!"
Because I wanted some peace when we got in bed that night, I put my arm over her, but Tammie immediately pushed me off. That made me angry. I asked, “What the heck is wrong with you? You asked me to hold you, and then I do and you push me away!” Tammie said, “I want you to hold me because you want to, not because I asked you to." I said, "I told you I didn't want to because it makes me hot.” She said, "Then don't!"
Over the next few days, I chewed on it, prayed about it and really thought about how to solve this type of problem. Do I lie and say I want to do it, even if I don’t? Do I tell the truth and not do what she wants?
I started thinking about everything Tammie had done for me. She left her family when we got married so we could start a family. When I was working toward winning the water ski jumping national championship, she came to practice every day after work to film my training. She prayed for me and with me for years to help me overcome my fear of failing as an athlete.
Tammie is my teammate in life. She did all those things, not to get anything in return, but because she loved me. Right in front of me, I saw another great example of love. After that, I couldn’t care less if I was hot in the bed at night. If it made Tammie feel loved for all she had given to me, I wanted to hold her. So that night, I told Tammie when I thought of all she had done for me, I wanted to hold her if she wanted me to because I loved her. We turned the air conditioner down to 67 degrees and have held each other every night since.
Holding Tammie can be about religion, getting what I want, or to get her off my back. Or, it can be love because I want to give something to her with no strings attached regardless of what it costs me. It’s often not what we do but why we do it that makes the difference. Love is a choice, not a feeling, and love always seeks the truth. The problem is, the truth is normally hidden. It took me a few days, but I finally found the truth: it’s not about me!
Giving to get is manipulation, not love!
#3: Religion Is Fear Based, and Love Takes Courage
Religion says if you do these things then you get these things, and if you don't do these things you don't get these things. Worst of all, it says if you do certain things and don't do others, your eternal life will depend on it. It provides a list of rules to keep in order to get what we want and avoid what we don't want. It’s all about me and the fear of not getting what I want. That is the opposite of what Jesus taught. Jesus taught us that love fulfills the rules instead of the rules fulfilling love! He said if you want eternal life and life now, love.
Below is a story from the Book of Mark:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”
Fear and religion always looks out for themselves, and love always looks out for others. If someone’s life is ruled by fear, they will want to know what they need to do to keep from losing you instead of what they can do to bless you. They will work hard to do those things, but things done for themselves are not love and you will feel like something is missing. It is more like manipulation than love. When what they do for you is really for them, it eventually becomes clear.
When you are not satisfied by their hard work to get what they want (which is normally your approval), then they become even more selfish and upset. But if someone’s life is ruled by love, then they seek what is best for you expecting nothing in return. They give to bless, not to get, so it’s OK if they don’t get anything in return. It’s a blessing if they do, but OK if they don't. Eventually you see this clearly as well and find yourself wanting to love them back. There is nothing empty about it and everyone knows it.
Love takes courage and it will always cost you something, but never more than not loving will cost you!
#4: Religion Does Not Put Love First
In the famous love story 1 Corinthians 13, there is a list of seven things love is and eight things love is not. I believe the eight things that love is not are also the eight things that fear is.
1 Corinthians 13 says love is: patient, kind, truthful, protects others, trusts, hopes and perseveres. The eight things love is not (or the eight things I think fear is) are: rude, angry, boastful, prideful, envious, selfish, unforgiving and delights in evil.
It's important to note that fear doesn't rule our life when we feel it. Fear rules our life when we act on it. The same is true with love. With that in mind, if you know someone that allows fear to rule their life, you will find they are likely most of the eight things that love is not. If you know someone that is truly loving, they are mostly if not all the seven things that love is. Of course, none of us are perfect and we constantly battle fear so we often fail. But a courageous and loving person will be quick to repent when they fail, and a fearful person will be quick to blame others or make excuses and hide their sin.
The key to life is having love, not fear and religion rule. Love does not rule our life when we are loved, it rules our life when we love. Religion rules our life when we give to get. Love rules our life when we give expecting nothing in return. If love rules our life, then fruitfulness becomes our destiny. If fear rules our life, then fruitlessness becomes our destiny. It is simply God’s law. What a shame it is that so often we are led to believe the opposite.
There is no list of rules we can follow to create love; the rules being followed are simply the fruit of love. When we try to get love through rules or religion, fear rules our life and we have little to no value, and in most cases we create major destruction. When we love no matter what, then the rules or the Ten Commandments are simply a fruit of love. We don't have to work for them; they become our greatest desire.
Near the end of the Bible, a verse in 1 John says it all: “Let us love one another for love is of God.”
If you know love, you know God, and if you know not love, you know not God, for God is love. Christ was the very best example of love we could ever find. He didn't give to get anything! He gave so He could keep on giving!
Religion is focused on me, on rules and on fear. Love is focused on God and others. You can take love away from everything and you will have nothing, or you can add love to nothing and you will have everything. Put God and others first, and find true love, not religion.